More of an art than a science, the making of home-made liqueurs requires considerable patience, understanding, comprehension and most of all, dedication to this craft. This is not for those who are squeamish, impatient or intolerant as some recipes take months, not minutes to make.
The results of a patient person’s travails will be an intensely flavorful, rich and glorious liqueur worthy of the finest tables. Whilst we use our liqueurs primarily in recipes, they make fabulous gifts. Just remember, you may label them, but you may not sell them. It’s the law.
In this treatise on liqueur-making, we’ll go through all the various steps necessary to create your own favorite liqueurs or replicate those commercial recipes you’ve enjoyed. Here is the quintessential guide to the process, the equipment needed and the accurate description of the process.
EQUIPMENT: Making liqueurs at home does not require anything really ‘special’ in the way of equipment. You will need some, but not all of the following:
AGING CONTAINERS: Glass jars with lids (wide mouth, 1 quart or larger are best); Ceramic crock with lid; Ceramic bowls/glass bottles and/or decanters with either screw on lids/caps or cork/glass cap.
STRAINERS: Metal colander; fine wire mesh strainer; cloth jelly bag, white cotton or linen cloth; cheesecloth; paper coffee filters.
MISCELLANEOUS: Wooden spoon; Glass or metal measuring cups; metal measuring spoons; metal funnel
PREPARATION OF EQUIPMENT: The aging containers should be properly cleaned and sterilized before use.
First, wash them thoroughly with a mixture of baking soda and water. The container should be sterilized by either boiling them in water for 15 minutes or putting them through a full dishwasher cycle without any detergent.
TYPES OF EQUIPMENT: Kitchen utensils used for liqueur making, such as measuring cups, funnels etc. should not be made of plastic. (Plastic can impart an off flavor to liqueurs.)
Metal, ceramic or glass are preferred.
Straining is one of the most important steps in obtaining a clear, quality liqueur. A large holed metal colander will strain large pieces but you will need finer straining material for smaller pieces and for your last fine straining.
If cheesecloth is used, you will need several thicknesses, which can be discarded after use. The most efficient fine straining is done with either a cloth jelly-bag or with a clean cotton or linen cloth laid inside a strainer. These cloths may be washed and re-used.
Some prefer to use disposable paper coffee filters for this step, however, they are too dense for some of the thicker liqueurs.
We recommend that you test a small amount first if you wish to use this method.
Try various strainers to see which you prefer.
Bottles and Decanters: You will need an assortment of clean bottles or decanters to hold the finished product.
For home storage, wine bottles with metal screw on tops are frequently the most practical container. For gift giving, small unusual glass bottles with metal screw on top, such as condiment, vinegar and small wine bottles, are excellent.
Many interesting bottles also can be found in kitchen, glass, gourmet, herb and wine making shops.
Glass decanters are elegant containers in which to serve or give your special liqueurs. Good places to find inexpensive decanters are garage or rummage sales and second hand shops. One reader saves old wine bottles and engraves the glass (a hobby of her husband) with the name of the liqueur.
Decanters frequently have glass tops with a cork insert. This is fine as long as the cork is clean.
Containers which have held something other than food or beverage can be difficult to clean and may transfer an offensive or dangerous taste to your liqueur. Therefore, their use is not recommended.
Plastic containers should not be used when making or storing liqueurs. It is also best to avoid all plastic or plastic lined caps. The reason for this is that the flavor from the plastic can be transferred to the liqueur.
The occasional exception is when plastic wrap is laid across a ceramic bowl in the early stages or to shield an uncoated metal lid from corroding.
For example, canning jar lids are usually coated inside; mayonnaise jar lids are not and today, are mostly made of plastic. Plastic wrap may be used if it does not touch the liqueur. Cork may be used if you wish, but remember that corks allow evaporation. You may wish to seal the cork with wax or foil to avoid this.
Ingredients: When making any recipe, remember that it is the quality of the ingredients used that determines the final result.
There are three main types of ingredients to consider in liqueur making. They are alcohol, flavorings and water.
Alcohol: There are a number of types of alcohol bases used in liqueur making. The two most frequently used are 180 to 190 proof pure grain alcohol and 80 to 100 proof vodka. Both are easily obtained at a liquor store (U.S.).
Pure grain alcohol is a neutral spirit which will be diluted half and half with water. It has no taste of its own to interfere with the liqueur flavorings.
When purchasing a pure grain alcohol, you do not have to be concerned with which brand to buy; all are equal.
Vodka, like pure grain alcohol, is a neutral spirit usually made from distilled grains and is an ideal base in liqueur making. However, there are differences from brand to brand. The purifying and refining processes of the distiller determines the end quality.
Good vodka should be colorless, aroma-less and have no real taste of its own.
The other alcohol bases used in liqueur making are brandy, cognac, Irish or American whiskey, scotch and rum. These all have pronounced tastes of their own and are frequently used with vodka or pure grain alcohol to add their special flavor. Choose them with care and use them sparingly.
Basic brandy is distilled from fermented grape juices. Some brandies are made from other fruits. Avoid fruit-flavored brandies in liqueur making, as they will compete with your flavorings. Choose a good tasting brandy, but avoid the rare, aged and costly brandies which should be enjoyed on their own.
Cognac is a very fine French brandy which derives its name from the area where the wine grapes it is made from are grown, Cognac France. You may, of course, substitute any brandy for cognac, but when we recommend cognac it is for a superior liqueur.
Whiskey, or whisky as the Scottish and Canadian versions are spelled, is almost as varied in taste as rum. American whiskey is generally distilled from rye, wheat or corn. Irish whiskey and Scotch (short for Scottish whiskey) are usually made from malted barley. We have found it best to use Irish whiskey in a traditional Irish liqueur such as Irish Cream, for more authentic flavor. Wherever this is important, we have indicated it; if not indicated, use a whiskey that is pleasing to your taste.
Rum are distilled from sugar and molasses. Most are made in tropical countries where the sugarcane grows, most notably the Caribbean. The lighter colored, lighter bodied Puerto Rican or Barbados rums work well. The Jamaican rums are heavier and sweeter. Take care to match the rum to the type of liqueur. Our best advice is to choose a rum that you find smooth and pleasing.
Fresh fruits are the most delicate ingredients in liqueur making. It does make a difference whether the fruits are picked at peak of their season or are the last stragglers. There really is no substitute for fresh fruit. Sometimes frozen fruit can be substituted, but try to follow the fresh fruit seasons if you can.
Fruit peel, often referred to as zest, should be thinly cut, away from the white portion of the fruit. Citrus fruits should be washed very carefully to remove dust and chemical sprays. Liqueurs can be ruined by a mold, spoilage or spray that is present in the fruit.
Dried fruit liqueurs can be made any time of the year. But again, chose fresh quality dried fruits for the best taste. Dried fruits can deteriorate with age but it is a slower process.
Fresh seeds, herbs and spices are frequently called for in our liqueur recipes. Always purchase the freshest and best quality spices, etc. possible. While the more common varieties are available in a supermarket, others such as dried angelica root may not be. Health food stores and herb/spice shops usually carry a wider selection at more economical prices.
In order to release the full flavor of a fruit or seed, the recipe will indicate that it be cut open or bruised. A mortar and pestle are ideal for bruising, however, a small bowl and the back of a spoon may be substituted. Bruising is a partial crushing of the seed to release the inner flavor to the liquid medium.
Pure glycerine is an odorless, colorless, syrupy liquid prepared by the hydrolysis of fats and oils. It is used as a food preservative and is available at drug stores, liqueur and wine-making shops, and some herb stores. We think of it as a smoothener. It performs two services: first, it gives additional body to thinner liqueurs that do not have as much natural body as desired. Secondly, it adds a smoothness and slipperiness in the tasting or sipping of a liqueur that gives a professional quality. In general, quantities of glycerine will vary, depending upon the need of the individual liqueur. However, we recommend that you do not exceed 1 tablespoon per quart of liqueur.
Glucose syrup is a sweet syrup that can be found in cake decorating shops. It has the consistency of corn syrup, and in its commercial form contains dextrin and maltose. It is not as sweet as the sugar and water combinations that we use in our recipes, but is an interesting alternative if you wish to experiment. It has the advantage of having a thick consistency which makes the addition of glycerine unnecessary.
Water: Water quality and taste vary considerably from one area to another. If you have good tasting water, you may choose to use it in liqueur making. However, for the best quality control in liqueur making, use distilled water. Distilled water will not impart any “off” flavors and you will receive the fullest taste from your liqueur.
Aging: There is one element in liqueur making that is absolutely essential to good quality and taste. The aging process. We are amazed to find that so many recipes (from other sources) ignore this step. Aging removes the raw edge of the alcohol, no matter which type of alcohol used. It lends mellowness and a professional quality to a liqueur that develops only with time. Your home made liqueur will be quite different from its commercial counterpart if not correctly aged.
We have indicated minimum aging times for each recipe.
Take time to find the smoothest vodka in your price range. Either 80 or 100 proof vodka is acceptable.
Siphoning: Before the initial straining, most liqueurs have particles of fruit or spices suspended throughout the liquid medium. Careful straining will eliminate these.
During aging, some liqueurs form a layer of clear, particle-free liquid and a second, cloudy layer. Attempts to strain this merely result in recombining the two layers, producing a cloudy liquid. Siphoning is a much more efficient way to solve this problem. Use a piece of plastic tubing 20 to 24 inches long. (Carried by beer and wine making stores.)
Place one end of the tube in the bottle of liqueur so that the end of the tube is at a level 1/2 inch above the sediment. Bend the tube and suck gently on the other end until the liqueur fills the tube. With your finger over the end, place the tube in the empty bottle and at the same time, raise the bottle of liqueur so that the layer of sediment is 4 inches or so above the empty bottle.
Release your finger and the liqueur should start flowing from full to empty bottle. To stop the flow, just lower the full bottle so that the liquid levels in both are the same. When the clear liquid has been siphoned off, discard the sediment.
Brand names: As you follow the recipes of this collection you may find that some of your favorite liqueurs seem to be missing. For instance, you will not see a recipe labeled ‘Galliano’ because that is a brand name for a commercially prepared liqueur.
Legally, we may not use these brand names for our liqueur counterparts, and so we have invented our own names.
The copy of Galliano is called Galliano-Style Liqueur.
Some names, such as Amaretto and Irish Cream are not brand names, even though we may associate them with one major producer.